FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Before You Ask Them Out: Shelby Abbott

with Shelby Abbott | March 4, 2024
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Got a date soon?.... Have you decided what you're going to wear, who's paying? So many things to consider. Shelby walks you through it with tips on communication, the single life, and sex! Don't forget to grab Shelby's book, "I Am A Tool: To Help with Your Dating Life," for some extra tips on asking them out!"

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Got a date tonight? What to wear, who’s paying? Shelby guides with tips on communication, single life, and dating etiquette. Get ready to ace your game.

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Before You Ask Them Out: Shelby Abbott

With Shelby Abbott
March 04, 2024
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Shelby: Hey, before we get started with today's program, I'm Shelby Abbott, and we are rapidly approaching Easter. One of the things that I have done with my family is to go through FamilyLife's Resurrection Eggs with them.

If you're wondering what that is, you're [thinking], “I have no idea what that means.” Well, it's a carton of 12 plastic eggs; each one has little items inside that are different every single day for the kids to open. There are little notes that help you understand what the significance of that item is. There's a book to guide you through the process to help your kids have fun, but also focus on the real meaning of what we're celebrating when it comes to Easter.

We want to send you a carton of them this week as our thanks to you when you become a monthly financial partner to help support and make the ministry of FamilyLife possible. You can go online to [and] find the “Donate Now” button at the top of the page. Or you could feel free to give us a call at 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”. You can also send your donation by mail to FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, FL 32832. It's going to be a blast if you go through this with your family. And Happy Easter!

Shelby: If your idea of asking a girl out is swiping on an app or sending a text message to her that says, “Hey! Want to hang out sometime?” I think you seriously need to rethink your strategy. You might be saying, “Who in the world asks a girl out face-to-face these days?” And my response would be, “You!”

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Shelby Abbott and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at

Ann: This is FamilyLife

Dave: —Today!

It's sort of an exciting day!

Ann: I'm very excited today.

Dave: Why are you excited? You're sounding too excited now.

Ann: Because we have the Shelby Abbott with us today.

Dave: Yes. Shelby, welcome!

Shelby: Thank you for having me. Once again, I love being with you guys. I was telling you earlier, you guys feel like family. It's so easy to be with you. It's so comfortable being with you guys. I love it!

Ann: We feel the same, Shelby.

Dave: Yes, it feels like you're—I was going to say, “son”, but no, I'm going to say, “brother [Laughter] or cousin.” Because we don’t want to be that old—

Shelby: —younger uncle, maybe? I don't know—

Dave: —yes, younger uncle. [Laughter] Something like that.

The reason we have you on today is, many of our listeners know this, and some may not even know, but you host the podcast with FamilyLife called Real Life Loading

Shelby: —that's right.

Dave: —and it's a podcast for a little younger demographic than—well, give us an idea of what age?

Shelby: Yes, we're shooting for 18 to 28 or 30-year-olds, somewhere around there; just post-high school all the way through, perhaps, maybe even getting married and starting a family. So, a lot happens in that time frame, that 10-year window.

Dave: Obviously, you're tapping in right where they're living. So, today, we get to listen to a podcast you already recorded and aired, about dating. Tell us a little bit about what we're going to listen to, and then we'll listen to it, and then we'll talk to you about it.

Shelby: I was working with a young college student at one point, and he was one of these guys that was just incredible in so many different ways spiritually. He had all the spiritual disciplines in order. He was sharing his faith, reading his Bible, and praying really well. But I found that, as I was talking with him, he was completely inept with how to deal with the opposite sex. He had no idea how to have a conversation with a girl, or make wise decisions.

And I thought to myself, “If this guy is getting it wrong, how many people are actually kind of following in his footsteps or maybe even worse? So, I wanted to craft something specifically that would help this generation learn how to date well, and I ended up putting that all down on paper, writing a book called I Am a Tool to Help with Your Dating Life. I created a seminar out of this book, and that's what you're going to hear now.

These are the first three principles that I talked about: the subjects of sex, communication, and service.


Shelby: Jesus is described in the New Testament as the “Friend of sinners,” and I think all of us are sexual sinners; all of us. If you've compromised in this area, in any way in the past, know that Jesus welcomes you with open and loving arms. If you're a Christian, you are forgiven and new.

So, I want to start there before going any further. It could seem, when talking about this subject, like a bunch of boundaries and perimeters that could quickly spill over into shame and regret, but there is no place for shame and regret in the Kingdom of God. In Christ, you're not defined by your failings. You're defined by His grace. Let's have the proper perspective on the fact that we're all failures in this area, and that Christ offers full and complete forgiveness. He is, as I said, the Friend of sinners.

Now, that being said, what the world will tell you when it comes to sex is, “Sex kind of, really, has no consequences; at least consequences that can't be fixed really quickly. Sex is the end goal of an evening or the end goal of the relationship in general. If you're serious about your relationship, you should be having sex because it's the ultimate barometer of whether or not your relationship is actually a relationship.”

But here's the truth: God has designed sex to be enjoyed within the context of marriage. Anything outside of married sex leads to destruction, and it leads to brokenness. There are memories, hurts, comparisons, emotional entanglements, physical consequences, and psychological residue that lingers for years when you have sex with someone. All of that will turn up again in the future. It will come out again.

Now, again, when I say this kind of stuff, there could be a lot of guilt and shame. If you've compromised in the past, you are a new creation. Look at 2nd Corinthians, Chapter 5, Verse 17. You are clean in His eyes, but let's be intentional about not making quick sexual compromises, because it can lead to destruction. Why? Because God has designed it in a very specific way.

Number two: communication. 1st Corinthians 13:11 is one of my favorite verses to share with people because it says this: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child. I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” Now, why am I saying this in connection to communication? There are a lot of people, when it comes to romance in the context of communication, that play games with one another. They'll say one thing, but they actually mean another. They'll direct message you, but then they ghost you for, seemingly, no reason. There's manipulation that people use to get what they want or get a reaction or inspire jealousy out of you; whatever.

Here's my point: healthy communication is the antidote to the poison of manipulation and games. When we're clear and uninterested in messing around with another person's heart, it builds vulnerability, trust, honesty, and, eventually, a strong bond with another human being. If the person you're messaging back and forth with is clearly someone who's playing you, or trying to keep you on the line, but doesn't really follow through, cut them loose and block them. You deserve better than someone who is deceitful and a game player. Don't be with someone who refuses to give up their childish ways. It's not worth your time or emotional energy.

All right, number three: service. There are these vile little creatures that live in the forest and in, sometimes, God forbid, a yard, that will attach themselves to a deer or a dog or, Lord, help me, a human being; and they're called “ticks.” Ticks are these things that attach themselves, and they suck blood. They're parasites. They take and take and take and give nothing back, other than disease. I hate ticks.

Similarly, there are a lot of relationships that are based on being, basically, ticks. When they enter into a romantic relationship, they take for their own satisfaction. And the relationship, for lack of a better phrase, sucks. [Laughter] That's my dad joke.

Okay, we don't want to be ticks in a relationship. We don't want to take, take, and give nothing back. We are designed to be people of service. We want to look to the example of Jesus, the life-giving Spirit. Matthew 20 talks about [Him] laying down His life. We want to pour into one another and care for people who are dating. We want to think intentionally about, “What I can do for them? How can I encourage them? How can I build them? How can I breathe life into them?”

When you have this posture in a dating relationship, it will set you up well for a possible future marriage, should God want that for you. But also, it'll set you up to be an all-around better human being. When you die to yourself, there is true life. Dying to yourself, that's where true life is actually found.

Our default in life is to think solely about ourselves, so it takes discipline to recalibrate our approach to dating someone and putting their needs ahead of our own. Serve the person you're dating.


Dave: You're listening to FamilyLife Today, and we're listening to a podcast by Shelby Abbott called Real Life Loading. Man, that was great stuff!

Shelby: Yes; I started with the subject of sex, because it's so—everywhere!

Ann: Right.

Shelby: And there are a lot of assumptions made about dating relationships that include sex, so I wanted to go after that first.

I found that, you know—the second one was “communication” and how so many problems can be solved, in communication, if you have healthy and good communication with the person that you're dating. We understand that in marriage, of course, but not many people dating understand that.

And then “service” is not what we think of when we get involved in a dating relationship. We're usually in it for “me.” “What can you do for me? How can you make me feel like you just serve me and my needs and my wants?” But if you flip that on its head, as the gospel does with everything, you find that you're just so much happier in a relationship.

Ann: Shelby, where are we going in the second half?

Shelby: What does it look like to be a good friend in your relationship? Not just a boyfriend or girlfriend, a good friend? And then, I wanted to talk about social media and smartphones; how the digital world has affected dating, which it drastically has. Then as not really a side note, but just really talk about the importance of singleness, which is something that we gloss over quite a bit in the Christian world and communicate the value of singleness. So, friendship, social media, digital age, and singleness.


Shelby: Number Four: friendship. If you're going to be a good boyfriend or girlfriend, you need to be a good friend first. Strong and godly friendship is the hinge on which the door of your relationship swings. So, make sure that hinge is sturdy and well attended to. If you set up your friendship well, it'll set you up well for a bright future that honors Christ.

That puppy love romance, the electricity that you feel at the beginning, that's a good thing; it's a very good thing! Don't get me wrong, but it fades quickly. So, make sure you actually want to be friends with the person you want to be your boyfriend or girlfriend.

Number Five: I think it's important that we talk about the digital world and social media. It's tough for a guy to look a girl in the eye and ask her out on a date, face-to-face. Just like it's hard for a girl to tell that guy that she has no desire to be more than friends with him if he might show interest to her in that moment. That's really cringeworthy. Face-to-face tension can be almost unbearable sometimes.

So, many—I dare to say, most—opt for the initial stages of dating to take place behind the safety of their phone; and I'd say that this is probably a mistake. Why? Because a precedent gets set that important communication between a couple is going to be dealt with in the easiest way possible; a way that brings the least amount of anxiety now, but in effect, glosses over the realities of life. A couple—a dating couple—shouldn't be in the habit of retreating to the safety of their phone in times when it's hard to handle the bumps of relationship friction.

Let me pause here in the midst of all this and just talk to the men for a second. If you're a woman, and you're listening to this, you can eavesdrop for the next few seconds.

Men, let me encourage you in this: have face-to-face conversations with women you're interested in. If your idea of asking a girl out is swiping on an app or sending a text message to her that says, “Hey! Want to hang out sometime?” I think you seriously need to rethink your strategy. Not that you can't meet a girl initially over a digital platform; that's not what I'm saying, but in terms of this as how you start your dating relationship, I think you need to rethink your strategy.

When you go out on a date with someone, when you go to pick her up, maybe, don't drive up to her parking lot and text, “Here.” I'd say you need to get out of the car, walk up to her door, [and] knock on the door. When the door opens, lean into the social awkwardness and anxiety you might feel of meeting her roommates or her family.

Now, as I talk about all this, you might be saying, “Oh my goodness, who in the world asks a girl out face-to-face these days? I mean, who does that?” And my response would be, “Ideally, you!” Instead of succumbing to the social norms of passive, digital relational interaction, why don't you set a different kind of standard of caring for a woman by actually communicating with her personally? Not only will you stand out as a man among boys, but it will also communicate care, respect, and character, in a world that devalues these admirable things in men.

Again, that doesn't mean that you can't meet a woman through a digital platform, but when you take her out, engage in the face-to-face awkwardness that makes you stronger. So, that's for the men.

Now, I want to talk to the women as well. So, men, you can eavesdrop on this. I'll be a lot easier on the women. Trust me, it'll be a lot easier to go through.

Ladies, there's a lot of ambiguity in the digital world, meaning you may not understand perfectly what someone means when they say something, and I think it can be dangerous to ascribe a specific meaning to DMs [direct messages] or text messages when you don't know for sure what the intentions were of the one who sent them.

So, assuming a guy means something when he doesn't state it explicitly is probably an incorrect assumption, and it could end up hurting you. So, be careful how you interpret. Remember, everything that's typed through a phone or through a computer is edited, so the only real way to get to know someone in a deep and meaningful way is either face-to-face, or maybe through something like FaceTime, where you can actually see and experience body language, conversation pauses, and socially awkward moments.

A friend of mine, Carrie Armentrout, once said, “Social media and texting is helpful and good, but it should always be a springboard for relationships, not a substitute for relationships.”

Finally, number six: I think it's important when talking about relationships to engage in the conversation about singleness. Now,1Corinthians, chapter 7, verses 6 through 9 talks about the gift, the “gift” of singleness.

I remember when I was single, I used to joke about wanting to return the “gift of singleness”. Like, “No, I'm good. I think I'll take something else.” Now, eventually, I did get married at the age of 29, and getting married helped me to look back and appreciate the singleness that I was constantly wishing was not around. I believed, when I was single, that singleness was a curse. I think, when everything inside you screams for deep, romantic connection with another person, it's hard to listen to anything else.

I wanted, when I was single, to be loved. I wanted to be wanted by another human being. Sometimes I would literally ask myself, “What's the matter with you? Are you unlovable? Why doesn't anybody want to be with you? Why won't anyone love you?”

But singleness is not a curse. If you're single, you're not half a person. You do not need to be fixed if you're single. You do not have a disease that needs to be cured if you're single. When you get out of college, and you stay single for any significant amount of time, older people will start to try to connect you with, “someone I think you'd like.” So, you and others around you might believe that singleness is a wound that prevents you from thriving as a person, when in reality, singleness is potentially a great opportunity for you. Why?

A friend of mine, Matt Smethers, said, “The most fully human and complete person ever to live was single.” Marriage is not ultimate. Jesus is ultimate. Yes, Proverbs 18:22 says, “If a man finds a wife, he finds a good thing,” but that good thing was never meant to be the ultimate thing. The only truly satisfying relationship one can have is the ultimate connection with God through Jesus Christ. He is the ultimate, regardless of the state of your dating relationship. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning, and the end [Revelation 22:13]. “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” [Colossians 1:17]. No one will ever love you the way that Jesus does.


Ann: You're listening to FamilyLife Today. This is Ann and Dave Wilson, and we've been listening to Shelby Abbott.

Dave: He's actually with us right now. He's got a podcast called Real Life Loading, and that with Shelby giving us pearls of wisdom on sex, communication, and serving one another. In that last one—man, Shelby—you nailed it! I mean, talk about singleness and really, where we find life is in Jesus. That's the hope of Real Life Loading. That's the hope of FamilyLife Today: to always point people—

Ann: —back to the gospel—

Dave: —vertical, to Jesus. You did that so well.

Shelby: Thank you.

Dave: Any last thoughts? I mean, I'm thinking about a lot of single people listening to this, even married people. There's so much—I'm not kidding; there was—wisdom there, that if people live it, it'll change their life and their legacy.

Shelby: Dating is not mentioned in the Bible, because it's a cultural thing. But biblical principles and biblical thinking can be applied to dating even though Scripture isn't clearly laying it out for us on how to live. Ultimately, what I want people to understand is that you should probably spend less time looking for the right person and more time on becoming the right person—

Ann: —yes.

Shelby: —and that's what Jesus does for us. He helps us to become people who are really His, more and more into the image of His [God’s] Son, and less obsessed with romance all the time. Even though the book is about romance, [Laughter] basically to communicate: “Why don't we become better Christians, more and more like Jesus, instead of trying to hunt down and find that perfect person?”

Okay, so today, we've obviously been talking about dating quite a bit and giving some guidance and encouragement for young men and women who are in that stream of life. But do you know what? Often, a lot of times, dating precedes getting engaged, and getting married. A lot of times, there are couples who simply don't know how to navigate the waters, when you move from the dating world into the engagement world, as you prepare for marriage.

Well, I have very good news. FamilyLife has revamped and refreshed one of our best-selling products for engaged couples as they are preparing for marriage. And guess what it's called? Preparing for Marriage. This book focuses on five essential conversations about things like finance, sex, God, family, and the future. David and Meg Robbins—David is our president at FamilyLife; he and his wife offer some of their unique insight and help into this wonderful, wonderful resource to really just offer fun, romantic ways to study the Scriptures that will help you target areas of growth for your relationship.

So, if you know anyone who's engaged or getting ready to get engaged, this will be a great resource for them. You can head over to Just look for the banner that says, “Preparing for Marriage.”

Not everybody is in a boat where you're younger and getting married for the first time. Some people are getting married for a second time because they've lost their spouse, or there's been divorce and they're looking to blend families for the first time. Now, if you're preparing to blend a family, be sure to check out Ron Deal’s book, Preparing to Blend. The subtitle to that is: The Couple’s Guide to Becoming a Smart Stepfamily. Again, you can find a copy of Ron's book, Preparing to Blend, in the show notes.

Speaking of Preparing for Marriage, how do you discover and unmask these essential conversations you're supposed to have if you're getting engaged, or if you are engaged and getting ready to get married? How do you figure out how to communicate well? How do you find resources to set up a strong foundation for the future? Well, David and Meg Robbins are going to be with us tomorrow to talk about all of that as they talk about Preparing for Marriage with Dave and Ann Wilson. We hope you'll join us.

I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.


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